The path that led up to her was a mud serpent. He was curly and coiled at odd angles, as if he was trying to confuse everybody who wanted to reach her.
She liked the solitude. In the day time, she would just gaze into the distance on both sides, and the fields would talk to her, and they would chat as old friends about the harvest, the family that took care of them, the Nilgiri pipits and Malabar larks, the early morning breeze, and the joyous rains. And then night would come and greet her with much silence and peace. They’d enjoy each other’s company without much conversation, just the occasional rustle of a leaf, or the soft clanking and wheezing of a rare bicycle passing by.
The path had no name, although she’d have liked to talk to him. He was intriguing even to her aging eyes. He never spoke however. She had tried several times; her legs would creep into its way now and then demanding attention. But he’d simply turn into another direction, adding another fold to its repertoire.
She often wondered why he never spoke when he got trampled so often, and with such nonchalance. She wondered even more why he never grew stronger, or grey like many of the other paths she saw from her height on clear days had. He just lay there without so much as a grimace, and she hated to see him that way. She wanted to share his pain, share with him some of her own, but he would not speak…
“Did you hear what Vishnu has done?”
“He talked back to Iyer anna! The pure insolence of the boy!”
“What do you mean he talked back?”
“Anna asked him a simple question: why he never wore lungi like the rest of the village, even though he was well educated by his grandfather. You will not believe what he said.”
“He said because it was not comfortable, and that anna should have better things to do.”
“Oh my. I agree with the first part. Jeans are definitely more comfortable, even if not as good when it comes to utility. But he should not have said the latter part. Wonder what anna will say to his parents now.”
They sat idly under her and talked of this and that for a while, before the sun descended upon the horizon like a cut-up orange. The distant huts looked like chariots ending their journeys for the day as they sank into the darkness.
She had guests. They had come from up north they said, with chirpiness quite alien to these lands. She asked her why they were travelling, and they said it was getting cold at home, and they did not quite like it, and they had no quilts or heaters like the other people there, so they had little choice but to fly to warmer climes. So are you not upset at this? That our mother does not take care of you, but gives us such protection throughout the year? – she asked, quite surprised again, like each year, that they were feeling so upbeat. Of course not, you do not get to travel and see what we see old girl, they said once again like every year. She couldn’t help but feel disappointed again, and she swayed and turned towards him to ask him what he thought, then stopped herself at the last moment. He was busy, she could see. If only those people could leave him alone for a few days, she’d strike up a conversation.
The day had just dawned, and it was beginning to get warm and sunny. Two sweaty villagers were walking slowly by, one had something in his hand and breathed out that air that made her cough. They were walking on him again, and it made her blood boil. Why won’t they ever climb on her instead? Incapable farts, all of them.
“I’ve never seen him in such a rage, though, despite his young age.”
“Yes, yes, that is true, but did you see what his mother was doing?”
“Mother? No I was looking at him only. Shouting like that in his own courtyard, my my, where are the manners in these boys nowadays?”
“No, no, but the mother, I am saying, did you see what she was doing?”
“No I did not, what was it that she was doing, anna? Anyway how does it matter, it is the father who should have stopped him from making a mockery of his family’s name by such hysterics.”
“Oho, you simply cannot concentrate. Did you see the mother or not da?”
“Aiyo I did not! What, what was it, tell me…”
“Oh. I did not see either, so I was hoping you would have seen. Because I think she should have stopped him no?”
“Oh gosh, then why were you making it such a big issue, if you don’t know also! Silly…”
“But did you hear what he was shouting? Or did you miss that also.”
“I heard that, yes.”
“So, what was it?”
“You mean you did not even hear what he was saying?”
“No! Aiyo, I had other business da. I was on my way to buy vegetables… You know how the wife gets if I take too long.”
“Well, he was shouting about how the facilities in the village were nowhere near. . .”
And the voice trailed off into the distance and she could hear no more. The sun began to beat down on her now, and she wished she was not so broad, so she would catch less of that arrogant dimwit’s brightness.
Rain, on the other hand, is always welcome. Her wings feel purified and thrash about in the wind, as the dust quietly gives up and slithers down them with the droplets. Her legs drink great gulps of the water as the feeling of contentment vibrates inside her every particle. She dances and sways and smiles green at every passerby.
The children often come and beg for help in the rains. She would shield them, and hear their gratefulness in their laughs. And once in a while, one child’s true laugh would heal a dying wing, and she would be grateful to them in return.
And yet, he became so sullen during the rains. Perhaps it was because she was so happy by contrast, that he felt cheated somehow. The years of use and misuse by the villagers had left him unable to cope with the fearsome power of the rain, and so he sulked a darkish brown, spitting mud at every drop that fell on him. He must feel terrible, she would think, but only after the euphoria had passed and he too was beginning to feel better. She would sometimes feel guilty afterwards. Maybe this was why he never spoke to her? Because she left him out in the rain when she helped everyone else as they passed by? She would never know, because he, he would never speak.
The truck roared past her, carrying fantastic grey things, and many boxes of a size she had never seen before. The driver shouted and cursed through the window, throwing many abuses at him, poor soul. What was his fault, she thought indignantly. If only you were strong and grey, my dear.
The truck rumbled past and into the village center, where the villagers poured out of their houses and gathered to see. A tall boy in jeans walked authoritatively up to the abusive man in the truck, and gave him something. The man nodded and said something and unloaded the truck right there. She had guests over from the north again, and so she asked them if they had seen something like this before. But of course, they chirped! You mean you haven’t? She felt embarrassed as they poked fun at her and flew off to one of her friends.
She continued to stare as the boy in jeans started doing things with the objects, and the villagers got together in a tighter huddle to see what he was doing. And soon, there was nothing left to see, because the villagers were watching so intently that they had covered up the whole line of sight. So she sighed, her interest waning. She looked at the retreating truck and hurled her arm at it.
The driver got off and cursed loudly at the arm… He simply wrenched the arm out of her body, and chucked it to one side, got back into the truck and carried on with his journey, leaving her in pure agony, one arm poorer and quite stunned and confused.
The villagers had given up hope, it seemed to her. From their stooping figures returning to their homes late that night, she could sense they felt cheated. There was no spring in their step, no casual banter like she was used to hearing or sensing from a distance.
But the boy, he just kept right on. He crouched, and he walked from piece to piece, and crouched again with some stick-like things in his dexterous hands and he never once stopped. So many came to him in the night to say something to him, some brought him things to eat and drink, but neither did he take a bite or sip, nor stop for a minute to rest. He worked and worked and worked like she had never seen any of the villagers ever work before, and she felt a strange connection to this boy who seemed to understand the meaning of patience and passion and determination, which the villagers so often lacked, and which she so often displayed with great tenacity.
The next morning, there was much running about. She hadn’t even fully started cooking yet, and here they were, running excitedly towards the boy who stood now with his arms on his hips staring at this strange contraption at his feet.
They were so happy! Their smiles could have lit up the darkest street for years. They patted him on the back, they stared with awe and wonder, and yet, he did not smile. He merely wiped his hands off his jeans, turned on his heels, and left, quite proud in his walk and the way he held his head.
And the villagers, they huddled more and more until once again, she could see nothing of the contraption.
“Vishnu has done it, you have to give him credit.”
“What, what he has done? We were perfectly fine before also, what, what is so special that he has done?”
“You just wait uncle, you will see, soon, there will be money pouring into our pockets, and the amount of food we will have will be enough to feed the whole of Tamil Nadu! And then our bellies will get large and content, and all because of this boy Vishnu.”
“Why? You were unhappy till now? Did our fields not feed you enough?”
“No, no”, said the younger one, now faltering a little,” it is not that, but we have to develop sometime anna.”
“Develop! Ha! You think you know what that means, do you? That thing Vishnu has brought into our lives, can it sing? Can it bring peace? Can it tell you the meaning of toil and hard work? Of camaraderie? Of what it means to earn your own food? Of what it means to live for each others’ sake? You think too lowly of a field, son, and what makes me sad is that you will never realize this. Develop! Ha!”
“Aiyo uncle, you should be happy the village has produced such a bright boy! He sings well too, does he not?”
“Be quiet! He has brought a great calamity to this village, and we will never live in peace again, mark my words.”
“What anna ,” said the younger one, getting up from under her and starting to walk in the direction of the homes,” you are always so skeptical and critical. This is a good thing, believe me! Vishnu has done us all a favour!”
He ran off into the distance laughing, with a skip in his step.
The older man began to slowly get-up, shaking his head and mumbling something under his breath. He did not stop shaking his head the entire time he was within sight, as he limped back on his walking stick in the same direction as the boy.
It was barely a year to that day, and she found herself shouting. She screeched as loud as she could, because she could not bear the pain. They were cutting through her stomach, cutting her very heart into two, and soon she would not be able to feel her legs… She screamed and wept, begging them to stop, and when they did not, she threw her wings at them. But they were so soft, and so useless! She did not know what to do in her panic, and she looked left and right, and none of her friends came to help her. They just looked away.
“This will happen to you too! Don’t you want to stop it! Help me!”
They did not listen. They were all cowards. So she, now straining for breath, tried one last time to talk to him.
“Can you hear me, O heartless path? Or does my death not concern you at all? Will you not help me?”
But he said nothing again, and she despaired.
“Why do you not reply! Am I not faithful? Have I not tried to be your friend for so many years? Why! Listen to me! ,” and tears streamed down her face,” at least say something! Even if to tell me you hate me! Help!”
And then, he finally spoke. That mud path that wound around her very feet, looked intensely up at her, and told her:
“I can read your thoughts my dear. You wanted me to be stronger, and grey like the rest of the roads, did you not? And yet, now that they kill you to make me stronger, you ask me to help? I am but granting your wish.”
And then, she was no more.